There I was, sitting in the darkened theatre, blank as a canvas (no pun intended) about the movie I was going to watch. The opening credit starts, and the audience were told that what we were about to see are the hand-painted creation of 100 artists. I was on the edge of my seat, confused and in wonder of what sort of surreal display I was about to witness.
And for the next hour and a half, I was in awe - in wonder - of what could be one of the most stunningly ambitious displays in cinematic history.
The story begins a year after Vincent van Gogh’s (portrayed by Robert Gulaczyk) death, following the journey of Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), son of Postmaster Roulin (Chris O’Dowd) to deliver the eccentric painter’s last letter to his brother. Finding himself embroiled in the unusual circumstances of Vincent’s death, the initially reluctant young man took it upon himself to solve the mystery behind Vincent’s suicide in the village of Auver-sur-Oise, a story shrouded in mystery, told in a fully hand painted cinematic creation.
Each frame of the movie was fully hand painted following van Gogh’s highly distinctive style.
Every minute detail is displayed in van Gogh’s impressionist art style, modelled to a T. Characters such as Pere Tanguy (John Sessions), Dr. Paul Gachet (Jerome Flynn) and even Armand and Joseph Roulin are based off van Gogh’s paintings of said friends and acquaintances. The scenery is a direct copy of some of his panoramic paintings, such as "The Yellow House," "Wheatfield with Crows," "Streets of Auvers-sur-Oise" and of course, the famous "Starry Night over at Rhone." One could even find several clever little pieces of trivia included, like the other Roulin family members that van Gogh had painted in real life but never appear in the movie, or the bare glimpse of another famous painting, "Sunflowers." It shows you the amount of dedication given to creating these moving images.
It could be discussed endlessly how every aspect in this movie is a tribute to Vincent van Gogh and his artworks, and how perfectly executed they were, but there are plenty of other points in this film that deserve some mention, both good and bad. The way the story was told is reminiscent of old noir films, with the perpetual black and white flashbacks and differing point of views, expanding on a certain scene to give it a different meaning. It was certainly in tune with the investigation nature of the plot, but while the narrative and its tie in with any real life event was nicely executed, the entire conclusion felt rather weak. There wasn’t quite the satisfying climax, even though there had been a decent build up.
Still, while the murder mystery angle fell a little flat, what draws me in when it comes to the story was the insight that it gives to the mind of our central painter. Saying that van Gogh was a mysterious fellow might be an understatement: We are talking about a man who suddenly cut his ear off and gave it to a prostitute then went to sleep in the bloodied bed. But this movie brings more character and means to understand more of his life than some bizarre facts.
Loving Vincent tells of his relationship and bond with his brother Theo (Cezary Lukaszewicz), his biggest supporter, and the difficult relation he had with Dr. Gachet, who had been treating van Gogh up until his death; both had been the last people to see him alive. It even gives us some understanding to van Gogh himself through his work and action through hearsay, the latter quite important in drawing the fact that, just like this movie, to everyone, van Gogh’s state of mind was just pure speculation.
Loving Vincent might be one of the most ambitious projects I have ever come across, and the care, labour and passion behind the entire crew involved in the making of this visual masterpiece truly shows. While the practice of this hand painted technique might be debatable - no matter how much I love it, I cannot deny the fact that it is rather jarring to the eye - but one could say that the art style was definitely one of the winning points in this movie.
Loving Vincent opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday November 2nd.